Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Florin: Medieval Age Euro

The famous landmark of Florence, the Duomo, 
or the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore 
Coins are part of our everyday lives. It allows us to make transactions in small quantities, like buying a candy or using for transportation fair, or even a simple vending machine. The history of coins had progressed so long. It began by the time people discovered metals and learned how to trade. In the Medieval period, one coin that dominated the period was made by the small but powerful Italian city-state of Florence – Florin.

The Florin was the medieval period’s Euro. It was first minted in November of 1252 in Florence, Italy. Florin or Fiorino d’oro derived its name from the fleur-de-lys which was the cities insignia that was embedded at the one side of the coin. It laid along with the inscription “Fiorentia.” Behind the fleur-de-lys was the image of Florence’s patron, St. John the Baptist. The florin was made of 3.53 grams or 24 carat of gold. The mint also issued the fiorino di suggello for large amounts of transactions. The fiorino di suggello were sealed leather bags containing a certain amount of florins.
Example of Florin (Credit: Wikimedia Commons, Classical Numismatic Group, Inc.)
Florin was made of gold in order to increase the prestige of the city. Trading was the number one income generator of the city-state. Its trade activities reached across the whole Mediterranean Sea. Gold back then was number trading currency. Thus, with a large scale mercantile activity such as that of Florence, gold supplies went up. In addition, the city state also transacted with the North African, which had access to the salt and gold trade in the Saharan Desert. With plenty of gold, the only way to display and utilized such a precious metal was through issuing of the Florin.

The Florentine coin was used alongside the silver coins of the city. Florence then entered into a bimetallic currency. The use of coins reflected the society of Florence. The silver coins issued were to be used in small transactions and changes. Meanwhile, the gold Florin coins were to be used in business, and banking transactions, and trade. From furriers, to different trade guilds, such as Calimala, Cambio, and Lana guilds, were allowed to use the Florins. Thus wealthy members of society that were traders used Florin while the poor with only poor transactions used silver coins.

With the Florin being used in trade, it was not surprising that it was in international trade. Florentine trade partners in the Middle East and North Africa began to use the Florin in their trade activities. Later on, it was then copied by other Italian city-states like Genoa and Venice.

The height of the use of Florin was during the 14th century. One by one, many other European countries began to use or model their own coins to the Florin. In 1320, with the discovery of the Kremnica Mines, the King of Hungary, Charles Robert, began to mint its own coins which were highly identical with the Florin in both the weight of gold and its appearance. Soon, the powerful Holy Roman Empire began to mint Florin, known to them as guilders, for their own used as well. With the rise of Florin, exchange rates were beginning to be set up.

King Louis I of Hungary
The zenith of the Florin, however, would not last long. By the entry of the 15th century, Florin use began to decrease. Some nation began to issue their own currencies with their own design but still modeled after the florin. In Hungary, during the reign of King Louis I, instead of the Fleur-de-lys it was replaced by the kingdom’s coat-of-arms, while the image of St. John the Baptist was replaced with St. Ladislaus. Some states in the Holy Roman Empire began also to change the designs of the Florin but continued to model its weight and composition.

The end of the Florin then came in the 16th century. By that time, the Florin had been overshadowed by the more circulated Venetian Ducat. The Ducat, however, was highly based on the Florin in composition. The only difference was the design, instead of St. John, its St. Mark. The Florin eventually ended in Florence in 1533 along with the end of the Florentine Republic.
Venetian Ducat (Credit: Wikimedia Commons, Classical Numismatic Group, Inc.)
The Florin is one of the most important, if not the most important currency in European Medieval and even Renaissance era. The Florin became the standard of the following currencies that succeeded it, like the Ducat. It also served as the currency of international trade. It became the instrument of flow of goods, services, and ideas throughout Europe. Without Florin, coinage in Europe would have been plentiful and exchange rates would have been staggering because of different weights and composition of each currencies. The Florin thus provided the standard for the coinage across Europe. 

Allen, L. The Encyclopedia of Money. California: ABC-CLIO LLC, 2009. 

Mokyr, J. The Oxford Encyclopedia of Economic History. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003. 

Rubin, P. Image and Identity in Fifteenth-Century Florence. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007. 

Venable, S. Gold: A Cultural Encyclopedia. California: ABC-CLIO LLC, 2011.